Hungarian media accuses Russia of working with far-right militia

Hungarian National FrontMedia in Hungary have accused the Russian government of funding and training one of Hungary’s most notorious far-right organizations. The Hungarian National Front (MNA) was founded in 1989 as the Hungarian National Socialist Action Group. After the end of communism in Hungary, the organization began to espouse an openly neo-Nazi ideology, led by its leader, István Győrkös, a self-styled unreconstructed fascist. Győrkös, who idolizes Hungary’s wartime anti-Semitic Arrow Cross movement, set up links with similar groups in Central and Southern Europe. He served several prison terms in the 1990s for illegally possessing weapons and explosives and openly espousing pro-Nazi ideas. On November 6, Győrkös was taken to custody after opening fire against officers from the National Bureau of Investigation, who tried to enter his house to search for weapons. One officer was killed in the shootout.

Following Győrkös’ arrest, Hungarian police have conducted several raids throughout the country, targeting MNA members’ homes and offices. According to a report in the London-based Financial Times newspaper, the raids have uncovered weapons stockpiles that are more sizeable and technologically advanced than expected. And, according to the paper, some Hungarian media now allege that the MNA has been armed, funded and trained by Moscow. Emails exchanged between MNA members, which were leaked to the Hungarian press, allegedly show that the party’s leadership consciously cultivated a pro-Russian strategy in recent years, including an outright support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Győrkös also allegedly used party funds to set up a Hungarian-language website with pro-Russian information about the war in eastern Ukraine. Some unnamed Hungarian officials have claimed in the press that the government has evidence of joint training exercises between members of the MNA and Russian intelligence officers in eastern Hungary.

The Financial Times article quotes Hungarian investigative reporter András Dezső, who has written extensively about the Hungarian far-right, as saying that the Kremlin will work with whichever Eastern European political groups can help destabilize local politics, regardless of ideology. It also quotes Hungary’s former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who argues that the current government in Budapest has turned the blind eye to Russian intelligence activities in the country, which has effectively “turned Budapest into a ‘Little Moscow’”. The country’s current Prime Minister, conservative Viktor Orbán, has kept a moderately friendly stance toward Russia, having argued repeatedly at European Union meetings that Brussels should not impose economic sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 November 2016 | Permalink

Czech spy service accuses Russia of waging ‘information war’

Czech Security Information ServiceThe intelligence agency of the Czech Republic has accused Russian spy services of waging a “war of information” aimed at destabilizing the eastern European country. The agency has also warned that Russia continues to maintain a large intelligence presence in the Czech Republic, 25 years after the country, which was formerly known as Czechoslovakia, exited the Soviet sphere of influence and joined the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

These claims are included in the annual report of the Security Information Service of the Czech Republic, known as BIS. The report, which was published on Thursday, singles out Russia and China for allegedly operating the two most active intelligence apparatuses in the Czech Republic today. It also claims that Russia’s embassy in Prague, which exceeds in size that of any other country in the Czech capital, serves as a base for dozens of spies. The latter are among the 140 diplomatic personnel stationed at the Russian embassy, operating under diplomatic cover, according to BIS.

In addition to collecting intelligence and recruiting spies, Russia’s undercover efforts in the Czech Republic focus on “creating or promoting inter-societal and inter-political tensions” in the country, said the report. That is allegedly one in many ways, including covert support for domestic extremist and populist organizations –both rightwing and leftwing, according to BIS. There are also organizations in the country, described by the Czech intelligence agency as parts of a network of “puppet” groups, which tend to hold consistently pro-Russian stances on domestic and international issues. They are also highly critical of NATO and the EU, and promote the view that, like Britain, the Czech Republic should seek to exit the EU.

The report suggests that the main focus of the current phase of the alleged “information war” is to advertise the Russian viewpoint on the civil wars in Ukraine and Syria. However, “the infrastructure created for achieving these goals will not disappear with the end of the two conflicts” and “can be used to destabilize or manipulate Czech society […] at any time, if Russia wishes to do so”, the report states.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 September 2016 | Permalink

Countries using Eastern Europe to flood Syria with weapons, study finds

AK-47Unprecedented quantities of weapons and ammunition worth in nearly $1.5 billion have been procured from Eastern Europe and sent to Syria to arm nearly every side in the ongoing civil war, a study has found. The weapons are transported through the Balkans and sold legally to countries bordering Syria, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Once there, they are secretly transported to Syria for use in the bloody five-year civil war, which has so far killed or displaced millions. The revelation resulted from a year-long investigative project by the Serbia-based Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in Bosnia.

The probe found that the weapons transferred to the Middle East include heavy machine guns, rocket and mortar launchers and shells, anti-tank weapons, as well as thousands of assault rifles and rounds of ammunition. Many originate from Ukraine, Belarus and the former Yugoslavia and are procured by companies in eight Eastern European countries including Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Bosnia. The governments of these countries give the companies permission to sell weapons to Middle Eastern countries, even though it is informally understood that they will eventually end up in Syria, in contravention of international agreements.

Investigators say the smuggled weapons have been traced to various factions fighting in Syria, primarily the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But many have ended up in the hands of Islamist militias, including the Islamic State, Ansar al-Islam, and the group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Some of the weapons have also surfaced in Yemen, in the hands of Sunni fighters there. According to the probe’s findings, Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, whose militaries use Western-made weaponry, were never large purchasers of Eastern European weapons. But that quickly changed in 2012, as the Syrian Civil War picked up pace.

According to British newspaper The Guardian, which published some of the findings of the BIRN-OCCRP report, the United States has used this weapons-smuggling channel as a way to arm Syrian opposition forces. The study found that, since December of last year, the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command has commissioned at least three cargo ships that left ports in the Black Sea for the Middle East carrying weapons for Syria. Regular intelNews readers will remember a report from November 2013, according to which the Greek authorities seized a ship that had left Ukraine heading for Syria or Libya, carrying 20,000 AK-47s, as well as explosives and ammunition. Two years later, in November 2015, we reported on allegations that Ukraine may be secretly arming the Islamic State in an effort to impair its regional foe, Russia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 July 2016 | Permalink

Polish ex-leader Walesa denies he was communist spy, calls for debate

Lech WalesaPoland’s first post-communist president, Lech Wałęsa, has denied allegations that he was secretly a communist spy and has called for a public debate so he can respond to his critics. In 1980, when Poland was still under communist rule, Wałęsa was among the founders of Solidarność (Solidarity), the communist bloc’s first independent trade union. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, Wałęsa intensified his criticism of Poland’s communist government. In 1990, following the end of communist rule, Wałęsa, was elected Poland’s president by receiving nearly 75% of the vote in a nationwide election. After stepping down from the presidency, in 1995, Wałęsa officially retired from politics and is today considered a major Polish and Eastern European statesman.

But in 2008, two Polish historians, Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, published a book claiming that, before founding Solidarność, Wałęsa was a paid collaborator of the SB, Poland’s communist-era Security Service. In the book, titled Secret services and Lech Walesa: A Contribution to the Biography, the two historians claim there is “compelling evidence” and “positive proof” that Wałęsa worked as a paid informant for the SB between 1970 and 1976, under the cover name “Bolek”. Wałęsa claimed that the documents unearthed by the two historians had been forged by Poland’s communist government in order to discredit him in the eyes of his fellow-workers during his Solidarność campaign. But the critics insisted, and in 2009 a new book, written by Polish historian Paweł Zyzak, echoed Cenckiewicz and Gontarczyk’s allegations. Citing sources “that prefer to remain anonymous”, the book, titled Lech Walesa: Idea and History, claimed that Wałęsa fathered an illegitimate child and collaborated with the SB in the 1970s. Like Cenckiewicz and Gontarczyk, Zyzak worked at the time for the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which also published his book. The IPN is a government-affiliated organization whose main mission is to investigate, expose and indict participants in criminal actions during the Nazi occupation of Poland, as well as during the country’s communist period. It also aims to expose SB clandestine agents and collaborators.

This past Monday, Poland’s former president published an open letter on his personal blog, in which he asked for a “substantive public debate on the Bolek imbroglio”. He said he wanted to end this controversy once and for all, by facing his critics before the public. Wałęsa added he had “had enough” of the “constant stalking” he faced by “both traditional media and Internet publications”. He went on to say that he had already asked the IPN to host a public meeting with authors and historians, including his critics, in which he would participate. Later on Monday, the IPN confirmed it had received a letter from Wałęsa, in which the former president asked for the opportunity to participate in a public meeting about the “Bolek affair”. Cenckiewicz, who co-authored the 2008 book on Wałęsa with Gontarczyk, reportedly wrote on Facebook that he would agree to participate in such a debate. The IPN said it would plan to host the debate in March of this year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2016 | Permalink

Moldova arrests paramilitaries who ‘planned pro-Russian uprising’

MoldovaPolice in Moldova says it arrested members of a paramilitary group who allegedly planned to attack several cities and establish a separatist pro-Russian enclave. According to Moldovan authorities, the group, whose members include Ukrainian and Russian nationals, aimed to create a pro-Russian republic along the lines of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine. Representatives from Moldova’s General Police Inspectorate told journalists on Thursday that they began monitoring a group calling itself “Budjak Republic” in October, after pro-Russian supporters in Moldova’s Russian-dominated south began calling for independence.

Located in southwester Ukraine, the Budjak region is sandwiched between Moldova and the Black Sea. Its population is multiethnic, comprising of Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Russian, and Moldovan speakers. But following the war in Donbass, some nationalists in Budjak’s Russian-speaking community called for a united front of ethnic Russians in Moldova and Ukraine. The expressed goal of these nationalists is to establish a pro-Russian “Budjak Republic” that would incorporate regions in southwestern Ukraine and southern Moldova. According to Moldovan authorities, pro-separatist cells have been most vocal in cities such as Taraclia, Comrat and Balti, which have substantial ethnic-Russian populations.

The arrests of the alleged paramilitaries were announced last Thursday by Moldova’s acting chief of police, Gheorghe Cavaliuc. He told reporters that the separatist group intended to launch attacks against state buildings, which included government ministries in the capital Chisinau, as well as a prison in Balti. It then hoped to recruit more members, including prisoners, and attack the homes of government officials. Cavaliuc said that at least one member of the paramilitary group is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian national from the Donbass region, and that another member is a Russian customs officer. Both were charged with being members of a criminal gang, said Cavaliuc.

Moldova, which has deep historical links with neighboring Romania, has a history of pro-Russian separatism. In 1990, the Moldovan region of Transnistria, which is largely populated by Russian and Ukrainian speakers, broke off from Moldova and declared itself independent under the name “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”. Another of Moldova’s heavily pro-Russian regions, Gagauzia, which borders Ukraine’s Budjak region, declared itself autonomous —but stopped short of announcing full independence— in 1994.

Nuclear black market thriving in Eastern Europe despite efforts to stop it

MoldovaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting authorities in some of Europe’s poorest states in their efforts to stop criminals with Russian connections from selling radioactive material to foreign terrorist organizations. The Associated Press said earlier this month that joint efforts by the FBI and Eastern European governments have frustrated at least four attempts to sell stolen radioactive material in the black market since 2010.

In one case, which involved a criminal gang in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, the smugglers were trying to sell radioactive material to representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press said it spoke to law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova, who have set up a small team of detectives to investigate the nuclear black market. The Moldovans told the Associated Press that they were working with the FBI, and even shared some of their investigative case files with the news agency.

In another recent case, which was cracked by authorities in February of this year, a smuggler in Moldova tried to sell a significant quantity of cesium, a radioactive metal typically extracted from the waste produced by nuclear reactors. According to the Moldovans, the quantity of the fission product was “enough to contaminate several city blocks”. Additionally, the Moldovan investigators told the Associated Press that the smuggler was specifically seeking a buyer from the Islamic State.

In yet another case, a joint US-Moldovan investigation targeted Alexandr Agheenco, a mysterious Russian-born smuggler, who in the spring of 2011 said he had access to bomb-grade uranium. According to Moldovan investigators, a middleman working for Agheenco told a prospective buyer from Sudan that he would be willing to sell an unspecified quantity of uranium, as well as “blueprints for a dirty bomb”. Although the sale was prevented by the US-Moldovan investigators, Agheenco managed to escape.

According to the Moldovans, the worsening relations between Washington and Moscow are making it more difficult for investigators from the two countries to share intelligence on nuclear smuggling rings. As a result, smugglers are finding it easier to operate across Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many leading black-market operatives manage to avoid capture and prosecution, while even those arrested are usually able to evade lengthy convictions, which means that they quickly return to nuclear smuggling, reports the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: J.B.

Analysis: Russia’s policy in Ukraine part of wider anti-NATO plan

Marina KaljurandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russia’s tactical maneuvering in Ukraine is part of a wider strategy of pushing back Western influence from former Soviet territories, according to East European and Western officials. That is the conclusion in a lead article in the latest issue of Time magazine, which quotes several eponymous sources, including John McLaughlin, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Marina Kaljurand, Estonia’s ambassador to Washington. She tells the newsmagazine that Russia’s meddling in Ukraine forms part of a carefully organized and well-funded strategy that involves “overt and covert” operations throughout Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Kaljurand says the operations include “a range of Cold War espionage tools”, such as planted agents, citizen groups funded by the Kremlin, as well as recruitment of intelligence assets. The aim, she argues, is to “restore in one form or another the power of the Russian Federation in the lands where Russian people live”. Western officials quoted in the Time article seem to agree that the strategy has a long-term, wider goal, which is “to undermine and roll back Western power” in former Soviet lands. Currently, Russian push-back operations are not only underway in Ukraine, but also in Latvia, where nearly half of the population consists of ethnic Russians, as well as in Estonia, where one in four citizens is Russian in origin. As in all former Soviet republics, many ethnic Russians in Estonia are members of the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, a group that is coordinated, guided, and often funded, by the Russian embassy in the country. In a recent report, the Estonian Internal Security Service said the Russian embassy in Tallinn is “guiding the Russian-speaking population […] by using influence operations inherited from the KGB”. IntelNews regulars will recall the case of Herman Simm, the high-level official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who once headed the country’s National Security Authority. He was arrested in 2008 and later convicted for —among other things— giving classified North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) material to Russia. Two years later, Estonia had been subjected to a sustained cyberattack after its government removed a statue commemorating the Soviet military contribution to World War II from downtown Tallinn. Read more of this post